European Digital Radio Transition A Mixed Bag

This month, the Media Intelligence Service of the European Broadcasting Union published a comprehensive overview of the state of digital radio broadcasting throughout the continent. Unlike in the United States, where there’s little love for our proprietary, spectrum-squatting HD Radio system, many European countries are making such great strides with their digital-exclusive DAB/DAB+ networks that they’re mulling the sunsetting of analog radio within the next decade or so.

European Brodcasting Union DAB/DAB+ Map, 2016The EBU report contains mini-briefs on 21 countries and says states like Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom lead the way in building out their digital radio systems and enticing listeners to migrate to them. Other countries such as Germany and France – who were key innovators in the DAB/DAB+ development cycle – only committed to building out a digital radio network earlier this decade. Even so, in Germany the sales of digital radio receivers already outpace analog radio sales. Read More

FCC Radically Revises Enforcement Drawdown

Three months ago, the FCC announced it was preparing to decimate its Enforcement Bureau by removing half its existing staff from the field and closing two-thirds of its field offices. The proposal, based on a $700,000 study prepared by outside consultants, did not sit well with anybody, and was popularly seen as the FCC effectively abdicating its role as police on the public airwaves.

That is, until last Tuesday, when the FCC announced it was abandoning that plan. There will still be enforcement cuts, but nearly not as draconian. Nine field offices are slated to close (instead of 16) and the agency has pledged to concentrate its field staff in markets where maintaining spectrum integrity is of primary importance. To make up for the offices that will be closed, the FCC will have not one, but two “Tiger Teams” ready for deployment on a short fuse. Even though it was brief, Chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement on the revised plan sounds contrite: “This updated plan represents the best of both worlds: rigorous management analysis combined with extensive stakeholder and Congressional input.”

In simple terms, the broadcast industry lit a fire under Congress about the importance of having something akin to recognizable (if not robust) enforcement activity by the FCC. This is the fruit of a carefully-coordinated lobbying campaign by the National Association of Broadcasters, New York State Broadcasters Association, and New Jersey Broadcasters Association, and the hook they used to make their counterattack on the FCC’s downsizing plan was pirate radio. The subject was mentioned repeatedly in Congressional hearings during which the reduction-in-force came up. And on the day that the FCC announced it was stepping back from eviscerating enforcement, a letter co-signed by more than 30 members of Congress to the FCC was released highlighting “Unauthorized FM Radio Operations in New York City.” Read More

Comparing Progress: HD Radio vs. DAB/DAB+

The annual NAB Show in Las Vegas is now behind us, and with it a bevy of announcements regarding HD Radio, the U.S. digital radio standard:

1. More test-results were announced regarding the workings of all-digital AM-HD Radio. Not many details: additional stations have conducted field-tests, and while the digital signal does sound better than the analog and hybrid analog/digital ones, it’s not as robust as hoped, leading many in Vegas to believe that, if the FCC does authorize the use of all-digital AM-HD this year, it’ll be for the daytime only. Read More

Digital Radio’s Global Consensus

It’s a tale of two futures for broadcasting. In the United States, as the radio industry and regulators wrestle with a poorly-designed and proprietary digital radio standard, online competitors are eroding the market share of stations and redefining radio itself in the process. Our reaction so far has been carefully-cultivated denial and wild swings between cheerleading and hand-wringing. Contrast that with Europe, which has widely adopted the Eureka 147 DAB standard. Now nearly 30 years old, DAB has gone through an evolution of its own, and the latest variant is called DAB+.

Many countries that initially adopted DAB are rebuilding their networks to accommodate DAB+. Cross-compatible receivers are on the market, and since the system works on non-broadcast spectrum, countries have some flexibility on how to build and deploy their digital radio networks. Read More

Documentaries Give Props to Pirate Radio

My pal Paul Riismandel over at Radio Survivor recently wrote about a new pirate radio-based mockumentary that’s airing on the BBC. People Just Do Nothing profiles the principals behind “Kurupt FM,” a fictitious Garage-format pirate station in the London area.

People Just Do Nothing found its roots in (and lampoons) another pirate radio documentary, Tower Block Dreams. Aired in 2004 on BBC Three, this flick profiled the booming pirate scene in the London area, with special attention on how pirate radio stations helped disenfranchised youth do something more creative with their lives than “thieving and grass dealing.”

People Just Do Nothing‘s main characters, MC Sniper and DJ Beats, are spot-on caricatures of the folks found in Tower Block Dreams. Relatively accurate with regard to the conditions under which pirate radio stations operate, the funny comes when you realize that Sniper and Beats have no real idea what the f*ck they’re doing. It’s a send-up that really drives home the differences between the U.K. and U.S. pirate scenes. Read More